Mutual backscratching can take many forms
SCMP August 20 2007
It is not usual to use one column to defend a previous one. But given
that my last resulted in four letters from government officials,
a reply is in order on my allegation of collusion between government
and big business and the existence of sophisticated forms of corruption.
If you have evidence of corruption, show it, demands the chief executive's
spokesman. I recollect that was the kind of answer that was given
to the likes of Elsie Elliot (Tu) when they campaigned against
corruption in the 1960s and early 1970s. Eventually the government
was forced to admit that syndicated corruption was endemic. The Independent
Commission Against Corruption was set up to address it.
The whole point of corruption involving officials and businessmen
is that evidence is hard to come by, as both profit from it. That is
even more the case when payoffs are indirect and delayed - for example
by provision of sinecures in the future. Nor is corruption necessarily
criminal; there is a large grey area.
That Hong Kong is viewed as relatively free of corruption does not
mean that it does not exist in sectors where rewards are high and transparency
As for the ICAC's claim of independence, that this is enshrined in
law does not make it a reality. It takes guts or a nothing-to-lose
position to fight official tendencies to indulge large favour-seeking
Collusion, mutual backscratching and actual corruption can take many
forms, and sometimes becomes apparent in the extraordinary billion-dollar "mistakes" that
government departments make from time to time - which mysteriously
almost always seem to benefit major developers, often advised by ex-officials,
at the public expense.
The movement of senior bureaucrats into positions in the private sector
close to government decision-making is a serious problem. There are
dozens of former civil servants who have moved either into the private
sector (almost always to companies dealing with the government, not
with export industries) or to government-controlled quangos which do
deals with developers and utilities. Unless the Tsang administration
bars such transfers, the assumption of collusion will remain.
The chief executive might also look to his own transparency. The list
of contributors to his re-selection campaign reads like a pecking order
of vested interests. It is headed by New World group, the employer
of his brother.
According to financial markets watchdog David Webb, New World/Cheng
Yu-tung avoided the HK$50,000 supposed limit on Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's
campaign contributions by making some 30 separate ones through subsidiaries
and affiliates. Cheung Kong (SEHK: 0001), Henderson and Sino Land also
gave large amounts in this way.
Political donations are about influence, especially in undemocratic
systems where vested interests - the functional constituencies - are
Unless the administration makes a genuine effort to distance itself
from the private sector and either privatise quangos or make them accountable
arms of government, suspicions will flourish.
Take the Bauhinia Foundation, a think-tank "close to the chief
executive" and stuffed with former civil servants and members
of quangos. It is throwing its weight behind a curious project to turn
formerly Shenzhen-owned borderland into a special development zone.
As Jake van der Kamp has pointed out in the South China Morning Post
(SEHK: 0583, announcements, news) , ownership of this land, and hence
the beneficiaries of the Hong Kong government spending billions to
enable its development, remains obscure.
Government policies which preclude the proper operation of competitive
market forces, placing power in the hands of officials and oligarchies,
are the basis of collusion and are a seed-bed of corruption, however
TOP OF THE PAGE